Players from the Tampa Bay Rowdies (right) and The Villages SC battle for the ball in their Second Round match in the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Tampa Bay Rowdies
The Tampa Bay Rowdies advanced to the Third Round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup after a 4-1 home win against The Villages SC (USL League Two). Midfielder Zach Steinberger was the driver of the Rowdies offense on the night with a goal and two assists, putting in a star-studded performance to help the Rowdies win their tournament opener for the third time in the last four years.
Brandon Allen, Antoine Hoppenot, and Leon Taylor got on the scoresheet as well for the Rowdies while Vandyke Gyau scored for The Villages. On the other end of the pitch, the Rowdies keeper Chris Konopka stole the show with some truly tremendous saves in what could have been a much closer match.
The Villages played with tremendous effort and passion, but the Rowdies were not to be undone in front of their home fans. The score was held level for some time and there was the thought that the visitors would grab the shock early goal.
“We spoke before the game that these games almost feel like a lose-lose because you’re expected to win,” said Rowdies head coach Neill Collins. “I thought tonight they went out and played fantastically well. We should have been up before we were, but we just kept going. There’s so many positives to take out of tonight.”
Early in the match, The Villages SC showed their determination and confidence by utilizing a rather aggressive counter-pressing scheme when losing the ball in the final third. This led to several counter-attacking opportunities for the Rowdies as the visitors struggled to mark runners in behind. With the Rowdies wingbacks enjoying a lot of verticality, thanks to the coverage by the three center backs, they were able to force The Villages into defending man-to-man.
Offensively, The Villages enjoyed time in possession between the first two defensive lines of the Rowdies, with Poku and Doherty unwilling to step out of their mid-block to apply pressure on the opposing holding midfielders.
After many chances in the first half, the Rowdies finally opened the scoring in the 43rd minute with a towering header by the Burkina Faso national teamer Mohamed Kone. Zach Steinberger would get his first assist of the match and the Rowdies would be content going into halftime up a goal.
However, it didn’t take long for the second. The Villages committing numbers forward at the end of the half to level the tie and the Rowdies forward Antoine Hoppenot broke behind the defense and found an open Steinberger who slotted home just before half.
The second half the match was open once again, and The Villages regained their fighting spirit. After a few quality chances for the visitors it would be another counterattack for the Rowdies in the 62nd minute to seal the win. This time it was Steinberger himself who found space behind the Villages defense and contributed another, providing a lofted cross just behind Brandon Allen who put it past Jerfesson with a tremendous effort.
The Villages refused to leave this match without something to show, and rightfully so. They continued to throw numbers forward until the final minutes, forcing the home side into some rash challenges forcing a yellow card from midfielder Robbie Soronellas in the 83rd minute and one from Mohamed Kone in the 88th. It would be from Kone’s foul that The Villages took a deep free kick opportunity by way of Gabriel De Freitas who found a marauding Vandyke Gyau who beat his man and netted a first-time chance past Konopka.
In stoppage time The Villages continued their pursuit until a missed clearance by Gyau saw Rowdies substitute Leon Taylor round the keeper and close out the match at 4-1.
The Rowdies advance to the third round of the US Open Cup and will face fellow USL team OKC Energy FC in Norman, Okla. on May 29. Since they first entered the tournament in 2010, Tampa Bay has yet to defeat a professional team from the second division (0-3-0).